Your Emails Are Not Enough: Swat Administration’s Pattern of Inaction

On April 30, the fourth day of the ongoing sit-in by Organizing for Survivors and the Coalition to End Fraternity Violence, both Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon unanimously voted to disband. The votes came nearly two weeks after leaked documents from 2013-2016 revealed racist, sexist, and homophobic attitudes among Phi Psi brothers, as well as depictions of sexual violence. The dissolution of the frats, and the success of the sit-in, mask a deeper, systemic failure by the administration to address the actual concerns of students on this campus.

At a meeting called by members of the administration to “discuss recent events and the ongoing conversations” with core members of O4S eight days after the original release of the minutes, Dean Terhune emphasized that he had asked a member of his staff to investigate the leaked documents. In those eight days, nobody had reached out — not for the original, unredacted documents from Voices or The Phoenix, not to ask about our investigative process, not to contact any of our sources. The minutes suggested evidence of violations of college policy, both past and present, and presented a likelihood of ongoing violations of college policy. Despite this evidence, and repeated protests by both O4S and the Coalition to End Fraternity Violence, the college allowed fraternity activity to continue for ten days following the leak. No interim measures were taken until students had been in the Phi Psi house sitting in for several hours.

This is not the first time the college has ignored demands to close the frats. Time and again, the administration seems to have done the bare minimum to save face. In 2018, the Ad Hoc Committee on Well-Being and Social Life, in addition to calling for a new task force to examine the continued existence of fraternities on campus, recommended a moratorium on the fraternities for this year. President Smith rejected the moratorium. At the same meeting between administrators and O4S, students asked President Smith and Dean Terhune to temporarily close the Phi Psi house — a house containing a bedroom the 2013 brothers described in their own minutes as a “rape attic” — pending the committee’s recommendations and a full investigation of the minutes. They declined.

This behavior is part of a larger pattern. According to members of O4S and the Coalition, students had told administrators about the existence of the minutes for years. Conor Clark, the former president of Phi Psi, told Voices that the minutes were hosted on an internal Swarthmore College Computer Society (SCCS) server using Swarthmore emails. According to the college’s acceptable use technology policy, “use of the Swarthmore College computer systems and networks is governed by the general norms of responsible community conduct described in the student, faculty, and staff handbooks,” and the college retains the ability to look through or suspend any account hosted on a college server — in fact, any documents hosted on these servers are the legal property of the college. Yet even after students in 2013 told administrators about the existence of the minutes, the college did nothing. Administrators have not publicly said they have attempted to gain access to the minutes themselves, or to investigate the server for internal communication that span more than the ones originally leaked to The Phoenix.

Swarthmore has made national news in the last two days — no thanks to the administration. While student activists have spent years fighting to re-envision spaces at Swarthmore and elevate the voices of the most marginalized, the administration has responded with neglect and bureaucracy. What the past week has made clear is that, since at least 2013, the administration has turned a blind eye to seemingly-constant allegations of violations of college policy, offering empty rhetoric instead of meaningful action. The college brands itself as an institution committed to social justice, touting its students’ storied history of groundbreaking activism — but its actions speak louder than its words.

Editor’s Note: This article previously incorrectly stated that the SCCS servers themselves are the property of the college. It has been updated to specify that Swarthmore emails were used, which are college property.

5 comments

  1. 26
    right answer wrong path says:

    The administration had a reasonable process that was in progress, that would have likely landed on the same result as we got. But would have gotten there without blowing up Swarthmore’s reputation with a childish fit of rage. I could not disagree more with you, the editorial board. Imagine if the administration set a precedent that this type of destructive behavior was an acceptable way to get what you want? We’d have students doing a sit in on the basketball court before a game next year to protest college athletics.

    For being a liberal, “open-minded” campus, you guys really don’t respect the opinions of others at all. No attempt to understand the context of the minutes. No attempt at useful or constructive dialogue with the fraternities, and yet you label their members as misogynists, sexists, rapists, etc. And you write off your unwillingness to be decent towards them by suggesting “we’ve been trying this for decades,” as if most of you guys aren’t underclassmen. I’m not in a fraternity (not a liberal snowflake either, admittedly), but these are my friends you’re talking about. None of them would join an organizations with a “rape attic” (lol at that accusation, which is now national news). And you are all incredibly dillusional with how you’ve gone about things.

    “We ‘survivors’ did this, the administration did nothing.” (Side note: I remember not-so-long ago when a “survivor” was a real victim of sexual assault, not a victim of overhearing a slur and getting their feelings hurt) The administration was doing something, and they were doing it in a fair, objective manor, something that Swatties know nothing about. As I understand, the Task Force will still make their recommendation, and I think you will find that change would have come. It would have come in a civil, constructive kind of way too, which is not what happened. This has further divided a segregated campus, despite what your peers tell you as you all live in your fairy tale world. I applaud the administration for taking the time to try to uncover both sides of the story, not rushing the process, and not setting the precedent that disrupting closed-door meetings, generalizing student groups, and disseminating stereotypes are an acceptable catalyst for change. I feel for the current students who were members of fraternities who have been harrased and scorned over the last few weeks. I know that most of you are good guys and I feel for you for the unfair treatment you’ve received from your fellow students. You Swatties should be ashamed.

  2. 20
    More like Twatmore says:

    Name a whinier group of students (or toddlers for that matter)… I’ll wait…

    These children deserve a spot in time out with all this pouting, lmao.

    Waaaaaaaaahhhhh… sniffle, sniffle… WAAAAAAHHHHHHHH… hup-hup, *swallow*, sniffle… WAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH

  3. 19
    https://www.google.com/search?q=south+park+pc+babies&rlz=1C1CHBD_enUS781US781&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjvgICwnv3hAhWPmuAKHRytBrAQ_AUIDygC&biw=1920&bih=977&safe=active&ssui=on#imgrc=3m3rPuXu_WMs3M: says:

    I’ve felt terrible for the administration the whole way. These students were not present when the administration worked side-by-side with the fraternities to improve campus safety, week-in and week-out, for decades. They have no clue, they still don’t, and the administration was pinned into a lose-lose situation. There was no correct answer for them, and now they’re ridiculed for searching for the answer.

    But they’ve chosen their pill and they’ve swallowed. They’ve babied these students (for years, this is not new), and I expect this to become the new norm at Swarthmore: students who feel in any way left out will disruptively protest in an effort to strong arm the administration into making changes as they see fit. After all, it worked to perfection this time. I’m not sure who the next target will be, but my first guess would be athletics. It’s all a damn shame.

  4. 0
    A Proud Local says:

    Ignore the other comments. Swarthmore university failed to close an institution that frequently preyed on and sexually assaulted vulnerable people. The activists who have been holding this administration to task are doing the right thing, regardless as to its popularity: and the shameful part is that I have no doubt that not ten years from now the new administration will show off this incident as an example of the social activist spirit of their university. Reject the trolls, you are all doing great things, and I can only hope this kind of direct action will spread to other institutions.

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